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Will the Real Tech Community Please Stand Up

Our world today is diluted. The lines have blurred. Everyone has bought into this concept of community – that everyone has something for everyone and we’re one big happy family. Specifically, the concept of the “technology community” which is a term that has come to mean anyone who has a blog, uses social media or Twitter and engages online in some way or another.

Though this has been a trend that is akin to the frog happily boiling in an ever increasing pot of hot water, the reality struck me today as I saw this Wall Street Journal article about how Facebook and Zappos approach hiring. Facebook, of course, is the social networking platform that has become the largest social network on the planet and Zappos, the sexy company that was just acquired by Amazon and has made its name, not on selling shoes – its core business – but in its company culture and parties.

In the WSJ article, the writer begins with the statement, “For fast-growing technology start-ups, there are many approaches to employee hiring and retention.”

While Zappos is a great company, and their acquisition by Amazon (which is a technology company) certainly places them in the ranks of great Internet success stories, they are a glorified shoe store, using eCommerce, web marketing and buzz to execute on their core business. They are not a technology company.

This is not a pissing match over labels. If calling a company a technology company when they are not was harmless, I wouldn’t care. The reality is that it is a harmful trend that is hurting the real tech community. This is not about Zappos. This is about the hundreds of people who hang out on the social networks, using the technologies built by real technology companies and technologists, and who call themselves technologists because they use the tools.

Photo by rutty on Flickr

These are the people who go for job interviews that they are not qualified for hanging their hats on social media experience.

Being in social media does not make you part of the technology community.

The real technology community is made up of developers, I.T. architects, and even highly trained engineers with C.S. degrees. For the record, I have neither a C.S. degree or any degree at all. However, I have been slinging code for 10 years now and it continues to be my primary business, despite public speaking, book writing and social media engagements. I am a technologist. A marketer or a salesperson may be highly trained marketers or sales people, but they are not technologists in most cases.

Here are some thoughts. These are common. I’m not simply being a little over the top.

  • The most you know about memory leaks is when Firefox crashes. Do you know why? Can you debug it? Do you understand the concept of a memory leak and why it happens?
  • You don’t know how or why an API is important. If you have to ask what an API is, you’re not a technologist. You don’t have to know how to use it, but know what it is. If you don’t know why an API might be important, you’re also not a technologist.
  • Your evaluation of a good website is based on the UI and layout. Great design is important and great designers are hard to find. That doesn’t make them technologists. Though there are some who straddle both worlds extremely well. A website is not just a website because of the appearance. It’s about how data is used. Remember this video?

  • It doesn’t matter if a site is built in a compiled language (Compiled PHP, .NET, etc) or not. Yes it does. Why?
  • Your approach to business does not include principles of Object Orientation as understood by developers. OOP is huge with developers. Ask any Java, Ruby or Python developer. Can you apply these principles to business too? They do apply…
  • The most exposure you’ve had to XML is RSS. And at that, the most you’ve had is adding a feed to Google Reader.
  • Your idea of working for a web startup is as ‘community manager’. Yeah, there are some great community managers. They are people people, not technology people. Additionally, community managers are meant to be liaisons between users and developers. Stop calling yourself a tech person if you’re a glorified PR person.

Again, if this was simply a matter of labels, it would be no big deal. Social media expert? Go for it… Everyone is a social media expert. Entrepreneur? Unless you’re building the product yourself, you’re probably not a technologist. Businessperson? Sure. CEO material? Quite possibly. Don’t call yourself a technologist.

You’re HURTING us. This market is filled with people looking for work right now. And recruiters are out in force looking for the one person who can fill the role of two people and save their client money. So by you walking in the door and taking jobs you’re not qualified for simply because you can do some marketing, strategy and you know how to hack on a website, you’re hurting this industry of highly qualified, professional people.

Stop carpet-bagging on our industry and call yourself what you are. You are highly qualified marketers. You are highly qualified journalists. You are highly qualified business development people. You are not technologists.

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Landed On My Feet

Back a few months ago, I announced my departure from b5media. At that time, I really didn’t know what I would end up doing. At the time, I figured I’d land on my feet doing something similar (Director of Technologyish) or maybe dip my toes in PR. Lord knows I wanted to get out of technology. No doubt I’ll be back in technology at some point in my life, but I really needed a break from it and wanted to explore other career paths.

Well, two months went by and when I left b5media, I quickly picked up with Lijit where, instead of dipping my feet in PR or continuing on the technology track, I found myself learning the ropes of Business Development.

Never been here. Never done that.

In typical Aaron fashion, I thought I could storm in and prove all the critics wrong. Wrong. I figured I could identify a bunch of high profile sites and, bam, I’d prove my mettle.

Wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I did a fine job. I managed a few quick wins and set about on bigger targets. Time went by and the wins got farther apart.

Okay, I began realizing this was a marathon, not a sprint. I had to adjust.

Adjustment ongoing, however I’ve shown enough promise at this very new role for me that last week I traveled out to Lijit World Headquarters in Boulder, Colorado – a place once described as 50 square miles surrounded by reality – and met the entire team. In addition to a pleasant few days in the mountains and thin air, I was pleased to walk away with a full-time gig. Business Development Manager.

Scary title. I even now own a Boulder phone number. Fascinating.

Interestingly, I’ve learned a few thing about Biz Dev as it relates to other, more familiar roles.

  1. The key to BizDev is more about relationships and less about sales.
  2. Pitching doesn’t work. Talking does.
  3. BizDev is a war fought with a pistol, not a machine gun. (via Micah)
  4. Strategic wins are sometimes bigger than Big wins.

I’m sure there are other things that I’ll continue to learn about BizDev as time goes on. Love to hear your thoughts on this kind of role. Tell me what I need to learn.

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